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How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures

How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures

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How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures

Longitud:
146 páginas
2 horas
Publicado:
12 may 2022
ISBN:
9781783965427
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

'A Stylist pick for best new non-fiction for 2021'“A sweet, touching memoir about family, faith and love. There's a purity and simplicity to Huma's writing, as she attempts to reconcile the sprawling weight of expectation with her own desire for a contained but free life. But what does a life on her own terms look like? What even are her own terms? A consolation to others who have trod this very path, enlightening for those of us who haven't, you'll be rooting for not just Huma, but for everyone she loves too.” Pandora Sykes"A beautiful, refreshing and honest memoir about family, love, inheritance and loss" - Nikesh Shukla, author of Brown BabyYou can't choose who you fall in love with, they say.If only it were that simple.Growing up in Walsall in the 1990s, Huma straddled two worlds - school and teenage crushes in one, and the expectations and unwritten rules of her family's south Asian social circle in the other. Reconciling the two was sometimes a tightrope act, but she managed it. Until it came to marriage.Caught between her family's concern to see her safely settled down with someone suitable, her own appetite for adventure and a hopeless devotion to romance honed
Publicado:
12 may 2022
ISBN:
9781783965427
Formato:
Libro

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Vista previa del libro

How We Met - Huma Qureshi

THESE DAYS

My six-year-old son Suffian has a friend at school whose parents apparently met on the Piccadilly line on the way to work. Suffian announces this while eating his dinner in the out-of-context way six-yearolds and their ilk are prone to do. ‘Charlie’s parents met on the Piccadilly line and then they got married,’ he says, with knowing authority.

I am sceptical. Things like this don’t actually happen in real life, I tell him.

‘Are you sure?’ I ask.

‘Yes. They met on the Piccadilly line and then they got married. They are the Piccadilly People. Charlie told me,’ he says triumphantly.

The detail, for a six-year-old, is specific (it was definitely the purple line, of that he is certain) so I suppose it might be true. Perhaps Charlie’s parents really do call themselves the Piccadilly People, perhaps they really did meet across a crowded Tube carriage many years ago.

‘That’s nice,’ I say, because it is nice when two people come together in the universe, even if it is in a crowded Tube carriage.

‘What line did you and Dada meet on?’ Suffian asks expectantly. I understand from his hopeful expression that he now believes that everybody’s parents must have met on the Tube. ‘Was it the Northern line?’ he asks, because we live off the Northern line and it is by default his favourite.

‘Ah, so we didn’t meet on the Tube,’ I say, shaking my head.

‘You didn’t?’

‘No. Most people don’t marry people they meet on the Tube. Most people don’t talk on the Tube. Most people don’t even make eye contact on the Tube.’

‘So where did you meet?’ he says.

We’ve never had this sort of conversation before. His curiosity suggests that perhaps he has some sort of understanding that we were people before he and his two younger brothers came along; this feels like a turning point. But right now I don’t know how to answer his simple question because there’s the story of how we met and then there’s my mother’s version of how we met and then there’s everything that happened before and also in between. I don’t know where to begin.

‘Well,’ I say, ‘technically, we met in a coffee shop.’

‘And then you got married?’

‘Not straight away.’

‘After coffee?’

‘No.’

‘But you don’t like coffee.’

‘No.’

‘Then when?’

‘Later. It was . . . complicated.’

‘What does that mean?’

I tell him to finish his dinner.

I text Charlie’s mum. She has no idea what Charlie’s talking about. They met at work.

Illustration

Sometimes when I’m upset, when things don’t work out the way I had hoped they would, I find myself wanting to gather my children in my arms and hold them close. I tell them that I love them, that I want them to know that they can be whoever they want to be, love whoever they want to love, do whatever they want to do.

My children are still very young and so they aren’t yet embarrassed by such affection, often seeking it out and instigating it themselves. They respond to my fervour with their arms flung tightly and hotly around my neck and I breathe them in the way you do when you don’t want to let someone you love go.

My declarations are randomly announced and often out of context. But somehow it feels urgent for them to know how far my love stretches, no matter how mundane the moment or what we might be doing at the time. It feels urgent for me to say these things, again and again, so that they will always know.

‘You are my sun, you are my moon, you are my earth,’ I say over dinner, pointing to each of their three faces in turn.

‘WE ARE YOUR UNIVERSE!’ four-year old Sina, the middle one, clamours back, punching the air like the superhero he is.

‘I love you to infinity,’ I say at bedtime.

‘INFINITY NEVER ENDS!’ Suffian shrieks. ‘INFINITY GOES ON AND ON AND ON!’ He jumps on the bed.

And so it goes, on and on and on.

Illustration

Suffian still wants to know how we, his parents, met and now Sina does too. I deflect their questions and ask them instead what they think marriage means. Sina doesn’t know but says he will marry me anyway. Suffian says: ‘It means that you love someone and that when you love someone, it means you’re going to live with them forever.’ He asks me if he’s right; I tell him he is. He tells me he wants to live with me forever. I tell him I’d love that but that I also completely understand if he ever changes his mind.

Illustration

My friend Saima says: ‘You should write about how you two met. You should write about how it happened.’ I laugh and tell her it’s really not that interesting. Besides, as parents of three small boys all we do is watch Netflix and eat dinner on the sofa once the kids are in bed. ‘But people need to hear that you can break the rules and live happily ever after,’ she says, in earnest. ‘Women, girls like your younger self, they need to know it’s not impossible.’

I laugh it off again. I don’t think of myself as particularly rule-breaking. All I did was fall in love unexpectedly. See – I married Richard, someone I wasn’t technically supposed to because he wasn’t from my background and didn’t share my cultural or religious heritage. After so many years it is easy for me to belittle this now, forget what it felt like at the time. It is easy to think of it as not even that big a deal anyway, as though telling my family about him wasn’t the most difficult thing I’d ever done. Lots of people have done what I did; I was certainly not the first. I tell myself that how I met Richard is unextraordinary and normal and therefore an unimportant story to tell. But later, I catch myself thinking of us and of our marriage and our children and of the life we are making together. I look around me and I allow myself to think of what it took to reach this moment and that’s when I realise: it does matter. I ask myself: what if my story, our story, might count? What if it might mean something?

Though there is plenty of the everyday in our story, because we are ordinary and watch Netflix and eat dinner on the sofa, it does not make it any less of a great love. Though the way in which we met was normal for the time, it doesn’t mean the stakes didn’t feel impossible or too high to scale when we were in the midst of trying to figure out what it all meant. It doesn’t mean it didn’t feel extraordinary, because it did. Perhaps no one would know to look at us what it took for us to be together. Perhaps parenting has left us too tired for it to show. We have been married for nearly ten years now. I notice the soft crinkles around his blue-grey eyes, count the silver strands that appear as if by magic in my dark hair, and it strikes me that we are growing older together. This astonishes me. I realise how in the ordinariness of the everyday the steadfastness of love is revealed.

I think about what Saima says. I remember how, when I didn’t know what to say to my family, I looked everywhere for a version of my story, something that might have helped me find the words I needed. I think of all the little questions my children have, and all the bigger questions that are yet to come. I wonder if they will understand that the story of how their father and I met is not so much about the specifics of when and where as it is about me, learning how to find the words I needed, figuring out what I felt, saying what I had to say even when I felt my voice falter.

Illustration

For the longest time, our story has gone like this: we met in Tinderbox, a high-street coffee shop in Angel, long since closed, I believe. The story goes that he was stood in front of me in the line and I took his green tea by accident. He asked for it back and I said something like ‘Oh god, I’m sorry, that’s embarrassing’, and he said, ‘Not at all’, and that’s how we started talking. The rest, we say, is history.

Except it’s not. That’s not really how we met at all. I mean, it happened, we did go to Tinderbox and I did accidentally take his green tea instead of my breakfast one, and that really is what we said to each other, but it’s not quite the meet-cute it has been made out to be. It’s easy to get carried away, to start believing that we met by chance as if somehow that makes it more romantic. When friends, people our own age, ask us how we met (and it is surprising how many couples ask this of each other), they say things like how lovely it is, how rare for something like that to happen in such a vast place as London, like the Piccadilly People I guess.

I like this version of our story even though it is not strictly true. I like it because it implies a twist of fate. I like it because telling our story in this way also makes it less my fault. It means meeting Richard happened to me by accident, not that I made it happen by choice.

Illustration

When our engagement was announced, my mother told some of our family and family friends that I met Richard in Regent’s Park mosque as if we both just happened to spend all our free time there. She said this, I think, in order to stress that his conversion to Islam was authentic and, perhaps more importantly, to stress that my behaviour was beyond reproach, to dampen gossip in the fairly conservative, relatively strict social circle that raised me and to put a stop to the question of what other people might think and say. If I met my husband-to-be in the mosque, it meant that I was a good sort of Muslim woman, and therefore my character came out of all of this intact.

Honestly though? The truth, the very unspectacular truth, is we met online. Of course we did. How else?

EARLY MARCH, 2011

Imeet Richard for the first time on a Tuesday after work. It’s the beginning of spring in London. A cold chill runs through the sky, still bright and blue in the unwind of an early evening. We agree to meet outside Angel Tube station. I arrive early because I’m nervous.

I keep checking the time. Before leaving my flat, I consider what I might wear a thousand times. I’m more nervous about meeting Richard than I have been about meeting any of the strangers I’ve been set up with in the past through my mother, the Muslim internet, a South Asian matrimonial agency once featured in Metro, and the women I call aunties even though they are not related to me. One of these aunties sends me a sheaf of printouts of Arabic prayers in the post with a note that says if I read them seven times a day for three months, I will be bound to find someone. I wonder why she took the trouble to post the printouts to me instead of just emailing them.

Some of these aunties haven’t even met me, yet they have such faith in their powers of matchmaking that they reassure my mother that they can find someone, anyone, suitable even for a girl like me. I am almost thirty, only five foot two inches tall, I’m not a doctor and I can’t speak Urdu, at least not very well. My pickings are slim. I am not in high demand.

Most of the boys I am set up with are always in such a rush, always planning their next move. They send texts full of complicated abbreviations on the go and then want to meet the next day, no time to talk on the phone let alone send an email, their eyes darting fast and sharp around whichever restaurant or cafe we happen to be in, telling me before I’ve finished my tea that I’m not a long-term prospect, then moving on to the next girl.

But Richard and I have been writing to each other every single day for almost a month now, though we have not yet spoken on the phone. We write long, detailed emails with no emojis or abbreviations, emails which he composes perfectly, with paragraph breaks and an excellent command of grammar. I come to think of these emails as letters. As a writer, I appreciate the time and effort he makes to sit down and write, share the details of his day with me. There is something lovely about this. I find myself refreshing my inbox, waiting for his next email. We only swap phone numbers

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